ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) continues winning on its own terms. Many Westerners don’t really understand those terms, for they have little to do with “victory” in the Western sense. ISIL seeks symbolic victories and achieves them by staging spectacular (often macabre) events that are captured on video and them distributed to the world via the Internet. For example, ISIL has found that “snuff” (images of actual murders) attract a lot of attention especially if the killing is done in a spectacular (beheading, crucifixion and mass murder) fashion. These snuff videos are not just for creating terror, but also for attracting recruits. One recent video deliberately showed the faces of the young ISIL men beheading a group of Iraqi soldiers. This made it clear that at least one of these bold warriors was from East Asia and several were from Europe. Millions of young Moslem men (and women) have seen these videos and about one percent of the men (and a much smaller number of women) went off to join ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Much less frequently these bewitched young people attempt to create some murderous mayhem in their own neighborhoods (as the narration accompanying the videos suggest.
Westerners are perplexed at how new Islamic terrorist recruits are still motivated to join the effort despite the high death toll among the holy warriors. The United States alone has done major damage to Islamic terrorist organizations since 2001. Over a hundred thousand Islamic terrorists have been killed or captured as have over a hundred terrorist leaders. This includes al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. The major affiliates of al Qaeda, in North Africa, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and Yemen have suffered major losses in the last decade. The branch in Iraq was but a shadow of its former self before 2011 when the civil war broke out in Syria between Shia and Sunni Moslems.
But this violence is about more than religion. A lot of it is politics. One of the reasons Islam ran out of steam centuries ago was that the Moslem areas never embraced democracy and intellectual progress. This led to lots of cultural, social, economic and political problems. Until the 20th century, most Moslems lived as part of some foreign empire or under local Islamic, and totalitarian, monarchs or dictators. The foreign empires were gone by the mid-20th century but democracy has had a hard time taking hold. The dictatorships are still there. And the people are restless. As has happened dozens of times in the last thousand years, every few generations young Moslems embrace, often fatally, the idea that radical, very violent Islam is the answer. The goal here is a religious dictatorship run by Moslem clerics.
Radical Islam as an alternative to all the other forms of government never works. In theory, establishing "Islamic Republics" would solve all problems. People could vote, but only Moslems in good standing could be candidates for office. A committee of Moslem holy men would have veto power over political decisions. Islamic law would be used. It was simple, and it makes sense to a lot of Moslems in nations ruled by thugs and thieves, especially if the people are largely uneducated and illiterate.
Islamic Republics don't work. The only one currently operating (not counting others that say they are but aren't) is in Iran. The major problems were twofold. First, the radicals had too much power. Radical religious types are no fun, and you can't argue with them because they are on a mission from God. Most people tire of this in short order. To speed this disillusionment, many of the once-poor and now-powerful religious leaders became corrupt. This eventually sends your popularity ratings straight to hell.
It takes a generation or so for everyone in the Moslem world to figure out where all this is going. This is already happening in Iran, where moderates are getting stronger every day, but everyone is trying to avoid a civil war. The Arab Spring of 2011 overthrew several long-standing Arab dictatorships, and now democrats and Islamic conservatives are arguing, and often fighting, over which way to go next. Many Moslems believe in a religious dictatorship, but most Moslems do not and this always ends badly.
While the radicals are a minority, they are a determined bunch. The constant flow of Islamic radical propaganda does more than generate recruits and contributions in Moslem countries; it also energizes Moslem minorities (both migrants and converts) in Western countries to acts of terrorism. In the United States, you find such Moslems regularly getting arrested for attempting to carry out religious violence.
Radicals throughout the Moslem world continue to take advantage of dissatisfaction among the people and recruit terrorists and supporters. To help this process along they invoke the ancient grudges popular among many Moslems. Most of these legends involve Christians beating on Moslems. To most radicals it makes sense to get people agitated over faraway foreigners rather than some nasty and very effective strongman nearby who will tolerate hating on foreigners, but not opposing the local tyrant.
Most radicals lack the skills, money or ability to carry their struggle to far-off places. So most of the agitation takes place among Moslem populations. Any violent attitudes generated are easily directed at available non-Moslems. Thus we have all that violence against infidels. But the more violence you have with non-Moslems, the more really fanatical fighters are developed. These are the people who are willing to travel to foreign lands and deal with non-believers, and kill them for the cause. We call it terrorism; the fanatics call it doing what has to be done.
Not surprisingly, Moslems get motivated to do something about Islamic radicalism when the violence is literally next door. That's why terror attacks in the West are so popular. The infidels are being attacked, without any risk to those living in Moslem countries. Iraq changed all that, and during the course of that war (2004-7) the popularity of Islamic terrorism, in Moslem countries, declined sharply because the terrorists were killing so many Moslems and the slaughter was widely publicized and not hidden (as Moslem tyrants tend to do). That, in the end, is what killed, for a while, most Islamic terrorism in Iraq. Worldwide, al Qaeda never recovered the popularity (in the Moslem world) it enjoyed after September 11, 2001. It would also be nice if the Moslem world got their act together and expunged this malevolent tendency once and for all. Don't hold your breath. These periodic outbreaks of murderous fanaticism are not unique to Moslems, as all cultures always have some young people attracted to violence as a solution to real or imagined grievances. This is more of a problem in Islamic culture because Islam is the only major religion whose scriptures demand that the faithful use war to forcibly convert unbelievers. Many Moslems try to play this down this aspect of Islam, but it is clearly present in the Koran and there is no hiding that.
There are plenty of other Islamic terrorists operating, often in small numbers, wherever there are Moslems and non-Moslems living close together. There is plenty of evidence of this. For example, twenty nations account for over 95 percent of terrorism activity in the world. Of these twenty (Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Uganda, Libya, Egypt, Nigeria. Palestinian Territories, Congo, Central African Republic, Colombia, Algeria, Thailand, Philippines, Russia, Sudan, Iran, Burundi, India, Nigeria and Israel), all but four of them (Congo, Central African Republic, Colombia and Burundi) involve Islamic terrorism. In terms of terrorism fatalities, the top four nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia) accounted for 75 percent of the world total of terrorism related deaths. All of these were the result of Islamic radicalism, often directed at other Moslems, and not just non-Moslems (“infidels”).
This has been the case for decades and the Moslem world does not like to dwell on this fact. Many Moslem leaders admit that there is a lot of Islamic terrorism, but insist that it’s all the fault of infidels who are making war on Islam, so some Moslems feel compelled to fight back. The catch-phrase Moslem leaders like to repeat is that Islam is the “religion of peace.” It is not, and the historical record makes that very clear. Islam has been at war with non-Moslems from the very beginning. After some early successes with this approach the neighbors got organized and fought back; hard. Moslems call any such defensive moves an attack on Islam. In a way it is, but it’s also self-defense.
This is not all just history. Currently you find Moslems attacking Buddhists in Thailand, Jews everywhere, Baha'is in Iran and Christians in Egypt, Iraq, the Philippines, Pakistan, Malaysia and elsewhere. This is not a sudden and unexpected outburst of Moslem violence against non-Moslems. It is normal, and at the root of Islamic terrorism. While this violent behavior represents only a small number of Moslems, it is a large minority (from a few percent of a population, to over half, according to opinion polls). Moreover, the majority of Moslems has not been willing, or able, to confront and suppress the Islamic radicals that not only spread death and destruction, but also besmirch all Moslems. This reveals a fundamental problem in the Islamic world, the belief that combining righteousness with murderous tactics is often the road to power and spiritual salvation. Throughout history, when these tactics were applied to non-Moslems, they often failed. The non-Moslems were unfazed by the religious angle, and, especially in the last five hundred years, were better able to defeat Islamic violence with even greater violence. Thus, until quite recently, the Moslems fought among themselves, and left the infidels (non-Moslems) alone. But after World War II, that began to change.
Naturally, this began to show up first in the Middle East. During the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, Christian and Moslem Arabs fought bitterly over political, cultural and, ultimately, religious differences. Few realized it at the time, but this war was but the first of many major conflicts between Christians and Moslems in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Many of the earliest Moslem converts were Christians. And many of the peoples Moslem armies unsuccessfully sought to conquer were Christian. The original Crusades, which modern Moslems portray as Western aggression, were actually a Western attempt to rescue Middle Eastern Christians from increasing Islamic terrorism and violence. But Islam as a political force was in decline for several centuries until the 1970s. Then things changed, and they continue to change. Fueled by oil wealth and access to Western weapons and technology, Islamic radicals saw new opportunities. Islam was again on the march, and few have noticed the many places where it was turning into religious war with Christians and other non-Moslems.
In Asia, we have continued hostility between Moslems and Hindus in India and Pakistan. Inside India, many Moslem communities remain, and feelings aren't always neighborly. Indonesia and the Philippines suffer growing strife between Moslems and non-Moslems. Malaysia has fanatical Moslems persecuting more laid-back ones, and non-Moslems in general. China has a large Moslem community that generates an increasing amount of violence. Russia and America have formed a curious partnership to deal with Islamic-based terrorism coming out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in Chechnya, Russia faced Islamic-inspired violence all alone in the 1990s.
Africa has a rather dusty front line in the semi-arid Sahel region. Many African nations are split by increasingly sensitive religious differences. The Moslems are in the north, Christians and animists in the south. The Sahel is often in the middle. Nigeria, Egypt and Sudan are among the more violent hot spots at the moment. When the Moslem Somalis stop fighting each other they will return to raiding their Christian and animist neighbors to the south.
The Middle East still contains many non-Moslems. None have their own country, except for Israel. But Egypt contains ten million Copts, native Christians who did not convert to Islam. Similar small Christian communities exist throughout the Middle East, and growing hostility from Moslem neighbors causes many to migrate, or get killed.
Moslems also have turned their righteous wrath on dissident Moslem sects. The Druze and Alawites are considered by many Moslems as pagans pretending to be Moslems. Similarly, the Shias of Iran and neighboring areas are considered less orthodox, not just for their admitted differences, but because many adherents openly practice customs of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion. These differences are less frequently overlooked today. To survive, many Druze have allied with Israel, and most of the current Syrian leadership are Alawites who pretend to be more Shia than they really are.
Even Europe has problems with aggressive Islamic radicals. The Moslems in the Balkans (Albanians and Bosnians) have been a constant source of strife for the last decade. Moslem migrants in Europe face even more persecution because of all the Islamic violence elsewhere and this makes it easier for radical groups to recruit and carry out their crusade against Christians. In many European cities with Moslem minorities, there are neighborhoods non-Moslems are advised to stay out of. To many young Moslem this violence is seen as victory, proof that Islam still has some spark in it and that there is a future. The sad part of this is that the endless religious violence has changed nothing and there seems to be no end in sight.